OSA Announces 2009-2010 Congressional Science and Engineering Fellows


Lyndsay Meyer
The Optical Society

OSA Announces 2009-2010 Congressional Science and Engineering Fellows

WASHINGTON, July 21—The Optical Society (OSA), along with co-sponsors SPIE and the Materials Research Society (MRS), have selected their 2009-2010 Congressional Science and Engineering Fellows. Matthew McMahon, senior principal scientist at Second Sight© Medical Products, Inc., will serve as the Arthur H. Guenther Congressional Fellow (co-sponsored by OSA and SPIE) and Gavi Begtrup, a recent graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, will serve as the OSA/MRS Congressional Fellow. McMahon and Begtrup will each serve one-year terms working as special legislative assistants on the staffs of members of Congress or congressional committees.

“The Congressional Fellowships program is an unparalleled opportunity for scientists and engineers to dive directly into the legislative process while providing a valuable resource for the non-scientific community on Capitol Hill,” said Elizabeth Rogan, OSA CEO. “Both Matt and Gavi have shown tremendous enthusiasm for public policy and possess the leadership qualities necessary to make meaningful contributions in a Congressional setting. OSA is pleased to support them in their fellowship experience.”

“Matthew’s background in biomedical optics is particularly relevant now,” said Eugene Arthurs, CEO of SPIE. “He has sound policy experience and through his work demonstrates dedication and leadership in applying science to solve important health problems facing people across the globe.”

McMahon and Begtrup will begin the program in early September in Washington, starting with an intensive orientation facilitated by AAAS for all Congressional and Executive Branch Fellows from more than two dozen scientific societies. Following orientation, the new Fellows will go through an interview and selection process with offices of senators, representatives and committees on Capitol Hill. Offices will extend offers, and McMahon and Begtrup will each choose the office in which they will spend their fellowship year.

The purpose of the Congressional Fellowships program is to bring technical backgrounds and external perspectives to the decision-making process in Congress. Typically, fellows conduct legislative or oversight work, assist in congressional hearings and debates, prepare briefs and write speeches as a part of their daily responsibilities. By applying their scientific expertise in this policy environment, McMahon and Begtrup will help to broaden awareness of the value of scientist- and engineer-government interaction.

Each year, following a formal application process, finalists are interviewed and fellows are selected by committees comprised of volunteer members from OSA, SPIE and MRS. For more information on the selection process, visit SPIE’s Fellows webpage or OSA’s Website.

About the Guenther and OSA/MRS Fellows
McMahon is the senior principal scientist at Second Sight Medical Products, a company devoted to the development of a retinal prosthesis to restore sight to people blinded by retinal degenerations. While at Second Sight, McMahon directed interdisciplinary research and development teams and worked with engineering, regulatory, and clinical affairs to improve the product and to facilitate the regulatory approval process necessary to commercialize the device. Prior to working at Second Sight, McMahon conducted primate retinal physiology research as a senior fellow in the Department of Biological Structure at the University of Washington. He received a BS with distinction in optics from the University of Rochester and an MA and PhD in experimental psychology from the University of California, San Diego, where he researched color vision, the limits of spatial resolution, and advanced retinal imaging techniques. He has given invited lectures both in the US and abroad, has published several peer-reviewed papers, is an inventor on numerous US and European patents, and has received grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. He has also volunteered in Nepal to provide intensive training for doctors and optometry students in basic and clinical vision science through the Nepalese Ministry of Health and the Seva Foundation. His experience and interests span innovation and competitiveness, health policy, and the regulatory and intellectual property policies that translate knowledge into innovations for society.

Begtrup earned his PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in December 2008 and his BS from Western Kentucky University in May 2002. His PhD dissertation was titled “Silicon Nitride Membranes for Electrical and Thermal Transport Studies of Nanotubes,” and his graduate research spanned the breadth of nanotechnology research, from synthesis and characterization to microfabrication and analysis of devices. During graduate school, he served as the vice president of external affairs for the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly as well as the chair of the American Physical Society Forum on Graduate Student Affairs. After completing his PhD, he spent the fall of 2008 as a Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow at the National Academies of Science. He worked with the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy on a project related to the efficacy and utility of large-scale science projects, such as the proposed “Manhattan Project for Energy.” Begtrup’s policy interests include energy, healthcare, and research and innovation. Begtrup says he is looking forward to the opportunity to develop his understanding of the political system and the many externalities of policy decisions, while developing the skills necessary to craft informed and balanced policies.

About OSA
Uniting more than 70,000 professionals from 134 countries, the Optical Society (OSA) brings together the global optics community through its programs and initiatives. Since 1916 OSA has worked to advance the common interests of the field, providing educational resources to the scientists, engineers and business leaders who work in the field by promoting the science of light and the advanced technologies made possible by optics and photonics. OSA publications, events, technical groups and programs foster optics knowledge and scientific collaboration among all those with an interest in optics and photonics. For more information, visit www.osa.org.

SPIE is the International Society for Optics and Photonics, founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 188,000 constituents from 138 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent, and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions, and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants, and other education programs around the world. For more information, visit SPIE.org.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Photos and complete bios of Matthew McMahon and Gavi Begtrup are available online.